from Fairy Tales, Folklore, Fables, Nursery Rhymes,
Myths, Legends, Bible and Classics

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(excerpts from Storytell posts plus original research)
(To retell any of the stories listed below, be sure to obtain permission from the copyright holder if the material is not in the public domain)

1) Here's the classic The Gossip, a midrash as retold by Marcia Lane, found in Spinning Tales, Weaving Hope: Stories, Storytelling, and Activities for Peace, Justice and the Environment.
Bones: A man in a small village was a terrible gossip, always telling stories about his neighbors, even if he didn't know them. Wanting to change, he visited the Rabbi for advice. The Rabbi instructed him to buy a fresh chicken at the local market and bring it back to him (the Rabbi) as quickly as possible, plucking off every single feather as he ran. Not one feather was to remain. The man did as he was told, plucking as he ran and throwing the feathers every which way until not a feather remained. He handed the bare chicken over to the Rabbi, who then asked the man to go back and gather together all the feathers he had plucked and bring them back. The man protested that this was impossible as the wind must have carried those feathers in every direction and he could never find them all. The Rabbi said, "That's true. And that's how it is with gossip. One rumor can fly to many corners, and how could you retrieve it? Better not to speak gossip in the first place!" And the Rabbi sent the man home to apologize to his neighbors, and to repent.

2) This story is from Folktales from India (Pantheon Fairy Tale & Folklore Library) by A.K. Ramanujan, called A Heron in the Mouth. A pundit has a coughing fit and spits on the ground. He is surprised to see a white feather. He's worried about it, tells his wife, but asks her not to tell anyone else about it. So, of course, she tells a neighbor that her husband coughed up heron's feathers - lots of them. But don't tell anyone. Neighbor tells another that the pundit coughed up a whole big heron, which surprised her because she thought that pundits were vegetarians. Don't tell. and so it goes until flights of herons and storks and cranes and all sorts of big birds had come flying out of the pundit's mouth. Neighboring villagers hitch up their wagons and come to see this monstrous happening - birds of all sizes and colors from faraway countries coming out of the pundit's mouth, darkening the sky went the rumor. The pundit ran away and hid himself until the news died out and was replaced by a new rumor.

3) Laura Simms has a wonderful story she calls The King of Togo Togo. It's on one of her early recordings.
Ephat Mujuru, a storyteller and Mbira master from Ethiopia, tells a similar story called Chamakanda (A.C.P.D.T. Children's Series). In his telling, Chamakanda is a friend to all the children. He always keeps a hat pulled down over his ears. The children are curious, but he never removes it. Finally, a young "friend" persuades him to show him what's underneath - promising, of course, "I will never tell." What's underneath the hat is ears like a donkey. The child tries not to tell but spills the beans to his parents, who tell friends, who tell... Soon everyone in the village has gathered around Chamakanda's house, asking him to show them his donkey ears. Chamakanda is crushed by the betrayal and leaves the village forever. The children lose their great friend.
Response: FYI - in the above story of Chamakanda (A.C.P.D.T. Children's Series)
, Ethiopia is given as the birthplace of Ephat Mujuru. This is incorrect. The late Ephat Mujuru, master mbira player and storyteller, was from Zimbabwe - not Ethiopia.
Solomon M. 10/5/05

4) A Bag of Feathers. A Jewish woman is accused of gossiping and is taken befor the Rabbi. She insists she has done no wrong. She just stated her opinion and it's not her fault if others repeated it. But she supposes she will ask for forgiveness. The Rabbi says it isn't that easy. Asks if she has a pillow. Of course she does--she has the finest, softest pillow in village. Rabbi asks her to go get it. He sends her to the top of the hill. She is to throw the feathers on the wind. Woman stands on hill throwing feathers, repeating her excuses, watches where the feathers land. Back to Rabbi. "Now, am I forgiven?" "It is not quite that easy. Now go and gather up the feathers." She sputters but tries and comes back with very few feathers. "What have you learned?" "Well, I suppose my words are like the feathers. Once words are spoken, they are hard to gather up again." I think a version of this story can be found in Wisdom Tales from Around the World (World Storytelling) by Heather Forest.
I have a picture book version of this tale featuring a woman called Yettele's Feathers - text and pictures by Joan Rothenberg,
Susan Stone has recorded her version of this tale on my CD, Feathers in the Wind and Other Jewish Tales. It is for children.
As a child growing up in a Jewish neighborhood perhaps the priest appropriated the tale, but I 1st heard it with a woman seeing her village priest. If ever there's a story that qualifies as Traditional, this is it. It's also 1 of the 1st stories I recall & is a great example of the power of stories to stay with us as internalized lessons.
This story is also in Heather Forest's
Wisdom Tales from Around the World (World Storytelling)
. In her notes she says, "this Hasidic tale, attributed to Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, can also be found in Who Knows Ten: Children's Tales of the Ten Commandments by Molly Cone (New York; Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1965) Another version is found in Elisa Davy Pearmain's book Doorways to the Soul: 52 Wisdom Tales from Around the World. In her notes, she cites both Spinning Tales, Weaving Hope: Stories, Storytelling, and Activities for Peace, Justice and the Environment and Wisdom Tales from Around the World (World Storytelling) as well as an adaptation for children called The Gossipy Child in Easy-To-Tell Stories for Young Children by Annette Harrison.

5) Ears, Hearing, Gossip—The superstitions and folklore you need to make life magnificent... or miserable.

6) Books about urban legends and gossip:

7) Brief mention of gossip by Robin Goodfellow (Puck) in Wm. Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (Signet Classics):

8) The Day it Snowed Tortillas
The Day It Rained Pancakes
There are also three versions under the motif The Old Man Goes to School in Katherine Briggs's A dictionary of British folk-tales in the English language,: Incorporating the F. J. Norton collection, which notes that Irish, Spanish, Hungarian and Russian versions of the story have been collected. I've also heard a version in which a man prevents a gossiping wife from being believed by such methods.

9) There is a Native American story about clams - The Gossiping Clams.
In it, the clams originally didn't live in the tidal zone. They lived ashore and were constantly, since they are all mouth, mouthing off about all the other animals as they passed by, causing discord and arguments, etc. Finally Raven, when the tide was down low, Raven and the Man who sits on the tides took all the clams and buried them in the sand. Now when someone walks by and they open their mouths to gossip, water and sand pours in and they end up sputtering and spurting instead. When you walk down the beach and see the spurts of the clams, you will know they are trying to gossip about you. This Suquamish story is in Apples from Heaven: Multicultural Folktales about Stories and Storytellers by Naomi Baltuck.
Comment: I just came across this tale today: The Gossiping Clams, and it can be found on page 81 in
Apples from Heaven: Multicultural Folktales about Stories and Storytellers by Naomi Baltuck. I think it would be a great one to tell to children to illustrate the damage that gossip can cause.This is a must have book for the storyteller's shelf, it is chock full of gems.

10) There's a story about a priest who has sex with his housekeeper. Priests usually have housekeepers living in the house to look after all the things priests don't have time to take care of, because they spend all their time praying and thinking holy thoughts. Usually the housekeeper is a woman of "a certain age," but this one was young, and the priest was young. Tongues began to wag. The bishop heard the gossip and decided to look into the matter. He invited himself for tea one Sunday afternoon. The housekeeper thought it would be a good time to visit her parents, so she was out of the house. The priest and the bishop chatted over tea and bikkies (cookies) in the sitting room. The bishop's eyes were all over the room, looking for evidence of scandal. He noticed an antique teapot on the mantle, got up and picked it up and inspected it.
"This is a lovely teapot, Father. Where did you get it?" "It's been in the family for generations. It's very valuable. Please be careful." The phone rang, and the priest had to talk to a parishioner. The bishop went exploring. He went out of the sitting room, still with the teapot in his hand (I don't say this, but I hold my hand cupped as it was when the bishop picked up the teapot), and walked down a corridor. He opened a door at the end, looked in, it was neat and tidy, a woman's room, obviously the housekeeper's. He closed the door and went to the other end of the corridor, opened a door, went into the room, neat and tidy, a man's room, obviously the priest's, snooped around a bit, and went back to the sitting room. (At this point, I drop my hand without being obvious about it.) The priest finished his phone conversation, he and the bishop chatted a bit, and the bishop went home. A few days later the bishop received a letter: "Your Excellency, I was pleased and honoured to have your visit on Sunday. By the way, do you happen to remember where you set that antique teapot down that you were admiring? I can't find it anywhere." The bishop wrote back: "Dear Father, I admit that when I came to visit you I was looking for something, but I didn't find it until just now, when I received your letter. You will find your teapot in your bed." I heard this from Pat Speight from Cork.

11) There's an old tale about these dolls and storytelling, something like this: King has three nesting dolls. Court jester looks 'em over, says, "Ah, only one is smart. The other two are fools." King wants to know how he knows. Jester takes hair, pushes it through ear of one, it comes out other ear. Doll is fool: everything in one ear, out the other. Next doll, hair in ear, nothing comes out. Doll is a fool, never speaks, even when he has something helpful to say. Third doll: hair in ear, out mouth. "This doll is wise; it's a storyteller. What it hears, it tells again." I think this version might be David Novak's; the earlier versions have the ear/mouth doll as a fool, repeating idle gossip, and the doll with no hair reappearing as the wise one, keeping silence. Just depends on which slant you want. Novak version might be in a Holt/Mooney Ready-To-Tell Tales (American Storytelling) collection.

12) Another story idea for sharing in gyms with large, mixed-age groups--the whispered sentence or "gossip" sentence, sometimes called "Pass It On." The "first" child in each circle quickly whispers one sentence to the next person in a circle (I usually break any large group up into smaller circles, with around 8 or 9 participants in each for this game), until the sentence comes back to the first child; the last child then says aloud what she or he "hear,", followed by the first whisperer's sharing of what was initially said— rarely do these two sentences match! I share this game to encourage using a positive story-sharing voice and clear verbalization, so that others not only hear what's said, but also visualize and understand it, too. One time, in a group of adults, the last participant in the circle said, "I can't say it. It's just too dirty!" Turned out the first participant had given directions for baking: "First grease the pan lightly, then turn on the oven." We laughed, but I still wonder what that last sentence was!

13) Looking at this site to refresh my memory about 'Feathers,' I remembered a tale in Harold Courlander's Terrapins Pot Of Sense. The story is Buh Rabbit's Human Weakness. All the animal preachers share their human weakness after a long night at a tent meeting. Rabbit goes last, and his human weakness is..... gossip!

(This web page updated 10/5/05; 8/8/08)


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